Far South Coast Surf Life Saving support mandatory life jackets for rock fishing

Emergency services rescue rock angers swept out to sea at Tathra in January 2017. Picture: Jacob McMaster
Emergency services rescue rock angers swept out to sea at Tathra in January 2017. Picture: Jacob McMaster

It is described as the most dangerous sport in Australia – claiming 158 lives in the past 13 years – but each year around 1.2 million people head to the coastline to go rock fishing.

Of those 158 rock fishing deaths, 99 per cent were not wearing a life jacket.

A witness to the incident saw three of the men in the water with only one life jacket between them.

On Friday, the NSW government announced an opt in model for coastal councils to make it a legal requirement to wear a life jacket while rock fishing.

Currently, only 17 per cent of rock angers say they always wear a life jacket. 

The development follows a 12 month trial of the Rock Fishing Safety Act 2016 in the Sydney council of Randwick, enforcing the mandatory use of life jackets. 

Bega Valley Shire Council’s manager of leisure and recreation, John Grady, said council was aware of local rock fishing incidents, but had not reached a decision to opt in to the legislation. 

“There is no question everyone wants to see rock anglers return home to their family safe and well,” he said. 

“We’ll look into the Rock Fishing Safety Act more closely and report the information to council.”

Surf Life Saving Australia’s Far South Coast branch manager and director of lifesaving Andrew Edmunds strongly recommended the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla Shire Councils implement the Rock Fishing Safety Act. 

“It’s the second highest cause of drowning in our region after swimming, our rocky and remote coastline makes it attractive to fishermen, but it also makes it very dangerous,” he said. 

“The major issue is remoteness, the benefit of a life jacket is that it gives our lifesavers more time to get to someone in trouble.” 

He said life jackets will become second nature to rock angers if they are mandated.

“Writing it into the law makes it abundantly clear that these are life or death safety devices,” he said. 

“Just like wearing a life jacket through the bar or wearing a seatbelt in the car, over time it will become a normal part of the activity and hopefully we will see that number of deaths drop.” 

Councils that opt in to the law will be provided with up to $30,000 from the Water Safety Fund and a tool kit including educational materials and signage.